Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Once upon a time.........The End.

Like I've said before, short stories were never my thing. But the universe, as always, is trying to tell me something. It happened by accident. I swear. I didn't even mean to pick up three short story books in the span of a month (February, the shortest month of the year to boot). But, pick them up I did and again, I was pleasantly surprised.

How easily do I succumb to the power of suggestion? Well, when I heard J.D. Salinger died -- even though I did not have fond memories of reading The Catcher in the Rye in high school -- I decided to go to my library and comb the shelves for Franny and Zooey. As luck would have it, it was no where to be found, and I stumbled upon this little gem instead:

Honestly, after reading this collection, I can see why people thought Salinger was a genius (read: disturbed). Yes, the stories were a bit unnerving, but I don't think that's why I felt anxious while reading. I'm pretty sure it was his writing that created this unease. Even with eccentric characters and bizarre plot lines, it was the frenetic thought process and word placement that kept me willingly cringing page after page.

Normally, I can't read more than one book at a time. I just don't work that way. It is easier for me to read a book in two days, than to carefully switch my mind from one set of characters to another. However, that doesn't stop me from taking out 10 books every time I set foot in a library. Which then involves me frantically trying to finish one book before the next one is due back. I renew the books as often as I can, but that doesn't help when it's: read one book, take out five more. I think that's why I liked reading these short stories though. I could finish a 15 page story, and if need be, put the book on the back burner, while I finished another book before it was due back. It was also nice to take breaks between each of Salinger's erratic mini-worlds.

Well, when I picked up Nine Stories, I also discovered this beautiful, well-written collection:

I thought Valentines would be perfect if I read it before Valentine's Day and wrote a post for the special day.....

I'll wait while you check back....-tick-tock-tick-tock-....oh, you didn't find a post about this book on Feb 14th? Yea. I know.
Whaaaat? (whiney voice) -- It crept up on me, I couldn't finish it (didn't start it) in time.

I wish I had though, because I fell in love with this book. The title was pleasingly ironic and every story in it was lovingly sardonic. It wasn't sappy or sentimental or cheesy or mushy or lovey or anything that would normally go along with the word "Valentine" when in relation to its namesake day. It's about lovers and relationships, but nothing ties together neatly in the end. It was heartache, heartbreak and realism rolled into one remarkably touching package.

So, I've decided I will no longer cower from novellas. I won't dodge anecdotal 10-pagers. The universe has won.

Hey, you never know, maybe now that I've stopped hating them, I can start writing them?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Video from Elephant Walk 2010

In like a lion, out like an.......elephant?

Because of recent events, I have decided that March will now be known as Elephant Month. My friends and I kicked off the month with our elephant-themed book club meeting, I created a pattern and sewed little elephants, and this past Monday my roommate and I braved the thunder, lightening and downpour and made our way over to 34th Street to watch the Ringling Brothers circus elephants make their way to Madison Square Garden from the Midtown tunnel.

The Elephant Walk: April 24th, 1920 (photo found on )

Apparently, the elephants have been doing this for a long time. An article about it in New York's Daily News, sites this as being the 139th annual Animal Walk. But, it seems to be a pretty well kept secret in NYC. In a city where most things are inundated by tourists or overzealous thrill seekers, the crowd that gathered for this surreal moment in Midtown was pretty calm. Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony it was not.

As most New Yorkers know, going out when it is raining sucks, so once you're home after a long day and sometimes, a long commute, there is no way that you are getting us out of our cozy apartments. Worse, if you're crossing the Burroughs borders. But when my roommate called me into the living room to tell me that the "Elephant walk" was that night, I didn't even hesitate. Visions of elephants picking me up and cradling me with their trunks flashed in my brain. I was sold. I could not miss a chance to see these pachyderms in action.

 Walking freaking cute!?!

I had heard about this a few weeks back, talked about finding out when it was and planned to go see it. But, as you all know, my follow-through is something that comes in waves. So, it was certainly exciting to actually fulfill this want.

The anticipation was electric and the waiting was unbearable, but once we heard that the elephants were close, I could not contain my excitement. We could see them from afar, swaggering in slow motion until they reached us. That's when we realized how fast these creatures were actually walking. We were basically bum rushed by a stampede of eager elephants lovers trying to catch up with the majestic creatures.

 Photograph taken by my roommate. Yes, that is the subway right next to Penn Station :)

At that point my roommate and I shrugged at each other, threw caution to the wind and joined in. It was definitely one of those moments where I really got to appreciate the city that I live in and see something extraordinary.

Question is, if they walk the elephants they have to walk them out again? Hmmmm........

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

God Save the Queen...

 Let's face it, you can't do much better than Oprah. She's everyone's best friend, confidant, mother, child, girlfriend and adviser. She takes on so many roles, it would be hard not to feel a connection with her on some level. I mean, even my mom is convinced that Opes is her BFF.

So, I was not surprised to hear about a woman who decided to start a blog based on the idea that she would follow Oprah's advice every day for a whole year. Anything with an Oprah stamp of approval would soon be done, scheduled, purchased, followed or owned by her. I heard about Robyn Okrant's blog-turned-book, Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk on a CNBC special about The Oprah Effect. This program highlighted all the different products, people, and places that Oprah has shot into success, just by merely mentioning, inviting, or interviewing them on her show.

Sure this idea sounded crazy, but then again, aren't the craziest things the most intriguing? Well, I'm sure you can imagine that when I heard about this project, I was beyond excited. Can I go as far as to say that my A-Ha! Moment was when I realized I needed to get that book? Of course, in true "me" fashion, it took me forever to actually get it and read it...but that is beside the point.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting Okrant to fawn all over Ms. Winfrey's every whim, but there were many times where I ended up feeling very annoyed. Did she really have to take all of Oprah's advice? I  mean, O is my mom's best friend, but she would never take every bit of Oprah's daily advice. For example, we all know Oprah does not want you to buy an outdoor fireplace if you don't have a backyard. That's just stupid. She's just giving you all the facts and then leaving it up to you to decide what you'll take away from that day's episode.

As I read about Okrant's adventures, I would sit there and scoff, "That's not really what Oprah's saying, Robyn. Come on, you're just looking for any reason to pass judgment on Oprah's suggestions." But, then I started thinking, maybe not everyone is as savvy? Maybe that woman in the middle-of-no-where America is thinking, "Yes, you're right Oprah! I don't have two pennies to rub together, but $50 organic soaps for my guest bathroom, really are the way to go." So I stopped getting offended by Okrant's questionings and tried to objectively get through the rest of the year with her.

Frustration lurked - ready to come out at any turn of the page - but, I enjoyed following Okrant on her self-inflicted, Oprah-fied journey. It was inspiring to think of coming up with one project to follow through for a whole year....inspiring and daunting. I am pretty sure I couldn't commit to something like that. My dedication to daily postings should be more than enough evidence to support that argument.

On that note, please, check out this excerpt from the Oprah chapter in Denis Leary's book. It pretty much sums up how awesome she is. (You should read Why We Suck, even if it is just to skip right to this chapter).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Corn Beef and Garbage....

So, I just finished reading Denis Leary's book Why We Suck, and I thought it mildly ironic and appropriate that I finished it on St. Patrick's Day, since a lot of the humor in the book tended to circle back to him being Irish and loving the Red Sox. Once I got past his "I am trying to be an asshole, so I'm going to just say whatever I want, and not care who I offend, so I can get a rise out of you" attitude, I kind of enjoyed this book. It was refreshing not to have political correctness being thrust at me every few pages. Telling it like it is, the only thing that I found offensive was the fact that he was such an avid Sox fan. Honestly, I'm not even a huge baseball fan or anything, but going to college in Boston for four years, really puts a bad taste in your mouth when it comes to the Boston Red Sox, especially if you are from New York. But I digress.....I enjoyed his rants about unfit parenting, "celebutards" and his overall take on what he thinks is wrong with our society.

Anyway.......back to it being St. Patty's Day. While I was in Boston, this holiday was what New Year's Eve in Times Square is in New York City. Annoying and loud, with obnoxious drunks wandering around the crowded streets looking for the next best party. So I braced myself when I walked out of my apartment on Wednesday morning, hoping that since I live in Astoria, the Irish would not stumble across my commute route, until I was already in Manhattan closer to my office....Well, I was pleasantly and eerily surprised when I exited Grand Central and the streets were not overcrowded with green-clad idiots, sloshing around their green beer, throwing up their green vomit on the green streets -- then again, my office is on 3rd, and not 5th where the annual parade was taking place, so for all I know, I could have been just avenues away from our very own Emerald City.

Please, don't get my wrong, I didn't always have this aversion to this viridian holiday.To tell you the truth, even with all my complaining, I was kind of disappointed that I didn't see more people wearing green and handing out "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" pins at every street corner.

I mean, ever since I was little, my Dad tried to make every holiday special. $$$$ for Christmas to get whatever you wanted (paying your bills not had to show him all the receipts and presents and wrap them up to open then on Christmas morning); Roses and chocolates for Valentine's Day; Dyed-eggs and lamb-on-a-spit for Easter; and corn-beef and cabbage on St. Patty's Day.

For those of you who don't know, my dad is a super friendly, will-over-feed-you-'til-you-are-rolled-out-of-our-house, jokester straight of the boat from Greece. So when I was younger, coming home from a long day at school and finding a boiling pot of colorless meat and floating wilted cabbage was not usually expected. But I knew once March 17th rolled around, Dad would be rummaging around in his office closet looking for his big pot and calling over his shoulder for me to "be ready to eat 'garbage', tonight for dinner".

Now that I think about it, maybe it's because of him that I love to wear ridiculous fake eyelashes to work on Halloween and make home-made Valentine's Day cards for all my friends? And he probably has something to do with my penchant to make holiday-themed goodies -- I mean, I really don't need that much of an excuse to hunker down in the kitchen to bake in the first place, but this new revelation sure does explain a few restless holiday Eves, where I have spent many hours well in-to the next morning finishing up a self-inflicted project.
And it probably explains why I felt the sudden urge on March 16th to make these:

Made-from-scratch cream-cheese frosting, on a made-from scratch red-velvet cupcake
Dyed green instead of red in honor of St. Patty's Day! 

I found the recipe on thanks to the link to her website on my roommate's blog. I cut the cake and frosting recipes in half (to make a dozen cupcakes). The recipe called for 3/4 cup of oil, so I put in 1/2 cup of apple sauce, and only 1/4 cup of oil; and I only put 2 cups of confectioner's sugar in the cream-cheese frosting (instead of 3) -- clearly I was proud of myself for being so calorie conscious....

If I do say so myself, they came out pretty well....but, maybe I should have substituted beer for the buttermilk asked for in the recipe...No, no -- that definitely would have been taking it a bit overboard....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An elephant never forgets....

I am a creature of habit. I make goals and plan things, get pumped up about them and then...........get lazy.

Exhibit A: Promising you, my faithful readers, that I was going to turn a new leaf. I was going to write to you everyday, or at least every other day. Lofty declarations of expanding the horizons of this blog...etc, etc....
Well, as you can tell from my "February 25, 2010" date stamp....I have once again been derailed by my own complacency.

There will be no excuses. I am just going to ignore this gap in time and continue on. What better way to do that then with a post about my first book club meeting?

So Monday night was the beginning of a beautiful thing. I didn't know what to expect since, I have never attended, nor lead a book club before. But I was excited about all the possibilities and pumped ever since I sent out the Facebook invite a month before. On multiple occasions before our meeting, my friend S and I had clucked about how much we missed intellectual stimulation and how conversations shouldn't solely revolve around who got married, wow, those are nice shoes, I got this on sale, did you hear about [insert celebrity name here]...

Once you leave college, you are kind of left to your own devices. You need to create a stimulating atmosphere that will mold your brain and opinions as time goes on. So, I guess you could say I was providing a service to all my intellectually stunted friends (and myself) by enlisting them to a monthly round table where we get together to stretch our minds through deep conversation and debate...which then gets sprinkled with who's getting married, can you believe these cost $X, we need to get dates, let's go out, are you going to this party, etc.....

Our first pick for book club was: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

An intriguing love-story with the unexpected and majestically cruel lifestyle of the circus in the 1930s. This novel is definitely worth your time. I devoured it in two nights. At our meeting, one of the ideas we kept coming back to was passion. There was much debate about whether or not the love between Marlena and Jacob was passionate enough. You'll have to read the book to make your own assessment, but I think that sometimes the things left unsaid and undone are the most powerful when faced with a delicate situation, such as theirs. Their passion laid beneath the quick (but pulsing) glances, the cautious "unintentional" brushes, and the quick and stolen meetings. Being showy and overly affectionate does not necessarily translate back into genuine desire.

When I told my roommate, L  about my plans for a book club, she shared that her book club always tries to meet in a location that goes with the theme of the chosen book. Luckily, I live in the best and most eclectic of cities, and I was able to find this gem on the Lower East Side to meet with my friends:

(The Elephant, 58 E 1st Street, New York, NY 10003)
Google is a wonderful thing, when you are looking for different restaurants, you can type in anything, and eventually you will find what you're looking for. I was a little worried, because most of the reviews said this place was always very crowded and that the service wasn't that great. I opted to force my brave friends (coming from all points of the Tri-State area) to come out to the LES on a Monday so that we wouldn't have to deal with the weekend crowds. And I'm thankful we did. We basically had the place all to ourselves.

This self-proclaimed French/Thia fusion restaurant had really good Pad Thai, Chicken Curry and a kick-ass pitcher of sangria ($28/pitcher). The prices were a little steep, but if you order wisely and family-style the dinner, you'll get the most bang for your buck.

I would say our first meeting was a success. Even if it was mainly just a good excuse to get together with wonderful friends, eat delicious food, explore new places and expand our minds. It also gave me a good enough reason to bust out my craft making skills because no nerdy book club is complete without a:

"First Book Club Meeting Gift".
These little elephants kept me up until 2 a.m. on Sunday night, but I just couldn't resist impressing my friends with my superb sewing skills :)